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February 3, 2006

TT: That sinking feeling

It's Friday, and I'm in The Wall Street Journal. (What else is new?) This week I report on a new Broadway play, Rabbit Hole, and one of the plays I saw two weekends ago in Chicago, the Court Theatre's revival of August Wilson's Fences:

What makes a play great? Sometimes the difference between high art and earnest mediocrity is less than obvious at first glance. Consider David Lindsay-Abaire's "Rabbit Hole," which opened last night on Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre, and August Wilson's "Fences," now playing at the University of Chicago's Court Theatre. Both plays are homely kitchen-sink dramas about families in crisis. Both pivot on the death of an offstage character. Both productions are well cast and well designed--yet "Rabbit Hole" is dullish and "Fences" a masterpiece.

On closer consideration, though, it isn't so hard to see why "Rabbit Hole" fails to measure up: It's a family drama with punch lines, a genre that at best runs to glibness, and Mr. Lindsay-Abaire sweetens the loaf of his characters' suffering with a double spoonful of sugar...

The Court Theatre's revival of "Fences" is a theatrical experience of a wholly different order. Yes, August Wilson tucked a lot of laughs into his Pulitzer-winning 1985 play about the splendors and miseries of a working-class Pittsburgh family, but he didn't pull any punches in portraying the kind of inter-generational agony Philip Larkin had in mind when he wrote his most famous poem: "Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf."...

As usual, no link. To read the full review (which contains much more about Rabbit Hole and Fences, plus a brief but laudatory mention of Sarah Jones' Bridge & Tunnel), pick up a copy of this morning's Journal and turn to the "Weekend Journal" section, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will provide you with instant access to the complete text of my review, along with lots of other worthy art-related coverage.

Posted February 3, 2006 12:00 PM

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